The Sunday News
RECENTLY in our Lest We Forget column we have published a series of interviews with a member of the Highlanders Football Club 1976 Under-16 squad, Clarence Tshuma pseudonym Shungu Moyo who narrated how almost the entire squad left the country towards the end of 1976 to join the armed struggle in Zambia via Botswana.
On Friday last week our Assistant Editor Mkhululi Sibanda (MS) traced one of the “ringleaders” who came up with the idea to trade football boots and gloves for the AK-47.
Sunday News found Cde Ralitali Ngwenya Qondani aka Hussein Menemene at his family home, P1 Square in Mzilikazi and is now a famous curios carver whose reputation has spread as far as Victoria Falls.
Cde Qondani although not part of the U-16 squad as he was in the U-18s played a big role in organising the then youngsters to leave football and turn their energy towards freeing their beloved country from the yoke of colonialism.
He was already dabbling in politics while playing for the Highlanders juniors. Below are excerpts of the interview. Read on . . .
MS: You played for Highlanders Football Club juniors and left to join the armed struggle, our readers would like to know who is this man. Give us your brief background.
Cde Qondani: I am Ralitali Ngwenya although I use my father’s name, Qondani as my surname. When we returned from the war I changed my surname from Ngwenya to Qondani because I did not trust the Rhodesian regime, I thought they would come after me. As for my brief history I was born on 28 May 1958 at Mpilo Hospital, grew up here in Mzilikazi at this same family home, P1 Square. I started my lower primary school at a school that was run by the Baptist Church here in Mzilikazi and was then called Mahlabezulu School where I did Sub-A to Standard One, then moved to another church school near where there is Lotshe Pimary in Makokoba.
I was to transfer to Mzilikazi Primary School where I completed my primary education. From there I enrolled at Mgandane (Mzilikazi) Secondary where I went up to Form Four, but unfortunately could not sit for the examinations as I did not pay the exam fee because my father, Elias Qondani Ngwenya was in detention for political activities. After school I got a job at Rhodesia Tinning Company now called Monarch, which is under the Tregers Group of Companies. By that time I was already in the Zapu youth structures at the same time playing for the Highlanders juniors. I remember when veteran nationalist, Lazarus Nkala died we were the vigilante group at his funeral wake at his home in Barbourfields.
MS: You were mixing politics and football, but when did you start playing for Highlanders?
Cde Qondani: I played for all the juniors’ teams, was it from U-10, 12, 14, 16 and 18 as a defensive mid-fielder, the old number 6. I played in the same team with Augustine “Launcher or Ga” Lunga who in the 80s was a household name for Bosso in the first team as an old No.2, David Sigudu, Kenneth Mutale (Kizo Kizo) and Danisa Sibanda. When we were being fielded in the reserve side from the juniors that is when Fanuel “Ncane” Ncube whom we knew very well since he lived at L Square joined Bosso. Fanuel was to captain Highlanders in the post-independence era.
MS: As for you leaving the country as a Highlanders Junior squad member, how did that happen?
Cde Qondani: Like Cde Clarence Tshuma said in your previous articles, a number of Highlanders juniors left the country to join the armed struggle. Not only the players leaving, we left with the kit after selling a dummy to Mackenzie Sibanda who was the overall juniors coach assisted by umdala, Washie (Washington Mpofu). To answer your question, what happened was that the U-16 team had played in Harare on Sunday and won the Castle Cup and the big chunk of that team left the following Saturday, not after three days as stated by Cde Tshuma who was one of the players. Two days before we left, on a Thursday after training I was approached by George Moyo who was a senior player and he told me that there was word doing rounds that I was about to leave the country for the war. I flatly refused and that made him angry as he had shown interest in joining the war as well. So later on, in the evening he came to my place in the company of George Nkomo, uMajikeduze Gampu as he was called in the struggle, ubhudi kaPeter “Oxo” Nkomo. They were angry that I was hiding something from them. I then ended up telling them the truth, so we started planning the journey together.
MS: What was the plan?
Cde Qondani: My home is in the Seula area of Kezi, the last villages to the border with Botswana, so I had a relative called Gibson Moyo who used to escort recruits across the Shashe River to Botswana. I told the two Georges about this man and they were excited about the idea. George Moyo then came up with a plan that we should go and trick umdala Mackenzie Sibanda that we needed a kit to go and play an exhibition match against Seula Primary School, that kit was meant to allow us pass through roadblocks without being troubled by the security forces.
MS: Aaah what did Mackenzie say?
Cde Qondani: Soccer players are full of tricks and we were surprised that Mackenzie easily fell for our trick, he gave us the full kit that is jerseys, socks, shorts and soccer balls. It was in December so there was not much in terms of competitive matches. So, on Friday evening we met at New Bhawa (MaShumba) here in Mzilikazi. To my surprise it was not only George Nkomo and George Moyo who came, but there were 10 other Bosso junior players, all showing hunger to join the armed struggle.
MS: Do you still remember their names?
Cde Qondani: We were 13 when we left the country, it was myself, Danisa Sibanda, Mdolomba, George Nkomo, Sikhulu Sibanda, Nkosana Ngwenya, Christopher Nkomo, Jabulani Mbambo (former Matabeleland South provincial registrar), his elder brother who was also in the team, Pietersen Mbambo, Mutangi, George Moyo, Promise whom we called Magagasa and Roberto. Some of these guys I cannot remember their full names, isikhathi sesiside (it has been a long time), mind you it’s now 43 or so years ago.
So, a letter was drafted that there was going to be a wedding of a teacher at Seula where we would also play an exhibition match, everything went according to plan and as they say the rest is history. Mackenzie signed and the police also approved it. So, on that particular Friday the guys gave me the money to purchase the tickets, but it also happened that my mother was also travelling to our rural home. So, on that Saturday my father woke me up early and ordered me to clean his car, after which I should go and buy the bus ticket for my mother.
When I got to the Rhodesia Omnibus Company (ROC) rank along Lobengula Street I was lucky that only 14 seats were available and I paid for all of them as myself and the boys were 13 while my mother became the 14th one. When time to travel came my mother was shocked to see me in the bus and I had to tell her the truth and she gave me her blessings. When we arrived at my rural home, we put up there for the night, the 13 of us. We spent the night drinking traditional beer, Ingwebu and early the following day we were escorted across the border by Mr Gibson Moyo and another villager whose name I cannot remember now.
To be continued next week